What is an alliance manager?

You might be wondering, what exactly is an alliance manager? Sometimes it is very clear what a term or job role means. When it comes to roles such as purchaser or sales, we know that one’s job is to purchase something, and the other’s is to sell something. But the role of an alliance manager is more complex, and to a lesser extent understood.

 
The many definitions of alliance management

Ask five people from different organizations what an alliance is, and you might receive five different definitions. With such a wide playing field is it almost impossible to come up with one single definition for the role of an alliance manager. One might be responsible for enabling resellers to sell your products, while another might be more focused on a joint development project with a partner. As such, the first one will be leaning towards sales and the other towards R&D.

 
Relationships are what it’s all about

When we leave the specific elements aside, alliance managers all have in common that they work with a partner to accomplish something their company can not achieve alone. That element brings along a lot of relationship and stakeholder management to the role of alliance management: relationships with the partner organization and relationships inside the own organization.

Coordinating the internal organization often consumes more of the manager’s time than working with the external partner. The alliance manager has, in general, no hierarchical connections with his teammates. To get things done the he/she needs to gain buy-in from colleagues and alliance counterparts by persuasion and by winning them for the sake of alliance.

 
A helicopter ride

An alliance manager will also need to be able to gain a clear overview of the alliance. They need to be aware of what is happening at the partner and what is happening within the own organization. The alliance manager will need to analyze the continuously changing information and suggest and implement adjustments for the alliance where needed.

In many ways, alliance management is all-round business management. Many aspects of a business are involved in the coordinating of alliances. On the one hand, the alliance manager needs to have an understanding of financials, business, development, and sales to orchestrate the alliance. At the same time, the alliance manager needs to be able to think outside the box. They need to identify new opportunities in the relationship in order to continuously develop, fine tune, and evolve the alliance.

 

An alliance manager definitely has to be versatile

Is alliance management a jack of all trades? An alliance professional certainly is a versatile person. Most often we see that they are seasoned professionals, who have worked in several areas of business before, assuming the alliance management role. This brings along the maturity required to be able to work with stakeholders through all layers of the organization. They are able to run the business aspects of an alliance and to influence without authority.

 
Spark a conversation

Given the broad spectrum of alliance relationships, it might be difficult to come up with one single definition for the role of alliance manager. You could describe the role in general as “a person who coordinates the alliance relationship between two or more companies”. In the light of what I described above, that might be a bit too general. It does not reflect the full breadth of an alliance manager’s responsibilities. Next time you meet with an alliance person, ask them what their role entails. It will be a great way to get to know each other better. And it will create clarity at the same time. After all, clarity precedes mastery!

 


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